ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR11 Archive

Monday

6

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

 

Best for:
People looking for hard facts on how the lack of data collected about women harms us.

In a nutshell:
Much of ruling society treats (cis) men as the default, dismissing the needs of women as abnormal. This screws us over.

Worth quoting:
“Like so many of the decisions to exclude women in the interests of simplicity, from architecture to medical research, this conclusion could only be reached in a culture that conceives of men as the default human and women as a niche aberration.”

Why I chose it:
I wanted some hard facts to support something I was already generally aware of.

Review:
I really struggled with picking up this book. Normally I wouldn’t because the topics is right up my alley. It’s non-fiction. It’s written by a woman. It talks about sexism. It focuses on statistics and data. That’s my jam! Except the author is a problematic feminist and I hate that she is the one who wrote this book, because she has a real problem with the idea of cis women (she wants to be called woman by default, not a cis woman, necessarily othering trans women. Oh the irony). Which means this book never once gives even a sidebar mention of the fact that some of the data gaps she is focused on are even worse for trans women. She also quotes a transphobic woman (Sarah Ditum) in the first few pages. I wish she were a better on this, but here we are.

The fact is, she has written an interesting and easy-to-read book that should piss everyone off. From data gaps about unpaid care work and women’s contributions to the economy to the fact that women metabolize and react to medications differently than men (but are often barely represented in studies — if they are included at all), she looks at the literally hundreds of ways that society places the needs of men in general above the needs of women in general, and the impact it has on how we navigate the world.

Obviously this requires some generalizations. For example, many of the areas focus on women’s role as caretaker, specifically as a mother. I’m not a mother and never will be, so I don’t fit in that realm. But I recognize that overwhelmingly most women will at some point have a child, so I appreciate that not taking that into account will harm many, many women.

Some were areas I’d been aware of before, though not in this level of detail. But other things were light-bulb moments. Early on in the book she talks about the planning of public space and public transportation, and some of the revelations were, looking back, obvious, but also so insidious as to not have occurred to me before.

The focus on the average man’s life experience as the default informs so many decisions in our world, and that means women get left out, left behind, and actively harmed. And the solution is to collect — and the use — more data, but there’s a problem there, as the gatekeepers for things like funding scientific studies are overwhelmingly dudes, and they don’t see the need for studying women-specific issues, or even disaggregating data by sex or gender.

There aren’t easy solutions that corporations and governments are just going to accept and implement. My biggest take-away from this is to be alert to any new studies I read that generalize about people, and to be an outspoken advocate to ensure that new initiatives at the government level have taken into account the lives not just of men, but of women, as well as people in other demographic groups.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it.

Sunday

28

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Midlife by Kieran Setiya

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy a philosophical approach to things, and those who are approaching middle age.

In a nutshell:
Philosopher Kieran Setiya, as he approached mid-life, decided to explore ways philosophy might help him power through — or even stave off — a crisis.

Worth quoting:
“I recognize the luxury of the midlife crisis, with a degree of guilt and shame. Why can’t I be more grateful for what I have? But this is my life.”
“There is consolation in the fact that missing out is an inexorable side effect of the richness of human life.”
“There is no more to going for a walk than what you are doing right now. You are not on the way to achieving a goal. You are already there.”

Why I chose it:
I’m turning 40 next year and I enjoy studying philosophy.

Review:
This fairly short exploration of mid-life is lightly humorous and well-written. Author Setiya is approaching 40 and has started to feel what many do when they approach mid-life: a sense of malaise. As he is a philosophy professor, he is, one could argue, fairly well-suited to explore the larger questions around life and what it means as we continue into the second half of our lives.

And I think he is. This is a largely successful book if one is looking not so much for all the answers, but for some ideas of how to change one’s thinking about this time in life. Setiya looks at the big issues that crop up around middle age: regret / paths not taken; fear of death; and wondering what to do next when you’ve completed most of the standard life projects.

The section on regret is interesting, as it forces a rational approach to the issue. Namely, that even if you could start over and do things completely differently, that would mean wiping out who you are now. Do you really want that? Do any of us? Sure, it’s understandable to spend some time wondering about different choices, but you can’t do anything about it. I found this section … not that helpful for me. I don’t have large life regrets or anything like that (though I’ve gone back-and-forth on career choices basically since leaving university) but I don’t think I followed Setiya’s process here.

The fear of mortality section was also a bit of a challenge for me, as his main point seemed to be (if I’m understanding it) that we shouldn’t focus on not being around after death because we weren’t around before birth, and they’re ultimately the same thing. There’s also something here about putting more emphasis on the future than the past, but I had some trouble following it.

The section I found most helpful was the one dealing with the challenges of what happens when you’ve met most of the life goals society sets out for us. For me, that included going to university, meeting a life partner, and buying a home, all of which I’ve done. What happens after that? What about all the other projects we work on, that are also bound to finish (like, hopefully, my book)? What do we do then? Setiya’s suggestion is we focus on all the things that are not bound by a start an end, instead looking at the process. His example is enjoying a walk for the walk’s sake. Not because we are using it as a means to an end. That is a way of thinking that I could definitely incorporate into my daily life.

Overall, would I recommend it to my peers? Eh, probably not, but mostly because I think it’s a little heavier on the philosophy than they’d like.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Friday

26

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

No. More. Plastic. by Martin Dorey

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for concrete steps to take to reduce plastic consumption individually and at the societal level.

In a nutshell:
The man who founded the two-minute beach clean-up offers tips for plastic use reduction.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I saw this in a shop while on a vacation near the sea, so it seemed like an appropriate (and quick) read.

Review:
Just over a week ago the Extinction Rebellion actions stepped up in London. The bridge by my office was occupied for a week; trains were affected, streets were blocked, and peaceful protesters engaged in civil disobedience to try to get politicians to pay attention to the serious issue of climate change and human impact on the environment. That was near the top of my mind when I came across this book. I’m doing a fairly good job with my carbon footprint; I don’t eat meat, I’m not having children. I no longer own a car, and when I did, both my partner and I still walked to work or took the bus. We do, however, live 6,000 miles from where we grew up, which means we do take long-haul flights once or twice a year.

And we also use plastic. It’s ubiquitous plastic is, especially here in the UK. The thing that baffles me the most is that nearly every bit of fresh fruit or vegetable is wrapped in plastic. Cucumbers are shrink-wrapped. Zucchini are wrapped three to a pack. Heads of lettuce aren’t that common; bags of lettuce, however, are everywhere. Broccoli crowns are shrink-wrapped. Avocado are in plastic trays. It’s BANANAS. I agree with the author here when he says it is gobsmackingly ridiculous that it is legal to sell food in packaging that cannot be recycled.

This book offers a bunch of ideas (some extremely practical, some not so much) and steps to take to reduce plastic consumption. Some I’ve done recently – buying a glass reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup for my commute – but others are things I need to do. Each of the 30 tips are discussed in detail across one or two pages, but there is a checklist at the back so readers can keep track of their progress.

The reason this book only has three stars is it seems written in a vacuum that doesn’t acknowledge the impact of some of these suggested changes on people. For example, this guy is gung-ho on eliminating plastic straws. Now, this isn’t a thick book, nor does it contain much of a narrative. But it’s well-documented that flexible plastic straws are a necessity for some disabled people. Same for wipes, which are other things Dorey says we need to give up (or at least not flush). It would be good for society to find alternatives for people who need them, and educate people who DON’T need them to STOP USING THEM. But othering disabled people by making the request them separately or incur the added cost of buying them isn’t a solution I’m okay with.

Another suggestion is to avoid supermarkets and go to direct sources that use less packaging, like greengrocers, butchers, bakers, etc. Great idea. But if those are spread out across town, that’s a large time-suck for some people who may not have the time to give. And what about the added carbon of driving to multiple locations?

And then there’s this: “Shop as usual but leave all the packaging at the till and let the supermarket know why you’re doing it.” I’m sorry, what? You want the staff person who is likely not paid a great wage to have to clean up the mess you make with your purchases? No. Don’t do that. Talk to the manager. Get lots of people together to talk to the manager. Buy things that are not packaged and don’t buy things packaged in plastic. But don’t put it on the lowest paid staff member to deal with your actions.

It’s complicated, and makes me think about the end of Season 3 of The Good Place – things are complicated, and it can be hard to make the best, most ethical decision. And sometimes an individual doing something means very little if there isn’t a larger plan of action associated with it.

But sometimes it isn’t that complicated; sometimes you really can pay more attention and make better choices. I think, on the whole, the book is one way to help me do that.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Wednesday

24

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Life of Stuff by Susannah Walker

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who find meaning in true stories, quality narratives, and learning about the human condition.

In a nutshell:
Author Susannah Walker’s mother was not always there for her. Upon Patricia’s death, Susannah sees that she’s been hoarding, allowing her home to fall into disrepair, and takes it as a chance to try to get to know her mother’s story.

Worth quoting:
“There had to be thousands of daughters like me who didn’t have a proper relationship with their mothers, but we would never be able to speak up and find each other, because the world was our policeman, always judging us.”
“So much of what my mother accumulated — all those plastic bags and envelopes of junk mail — didn’t have any significance of their own. Their job was to bury the objects that did, to prevent the terrifying misery of the past from ever being discovered again.”

Why I chose it:
I was in a bookshop in a new city. Obviously I was going to get something. I’d also been looking for a book with a more narrative voice but didn’t have any fiction in mind. This was a perfect fit.

Review:
Author Susannah Walker studied and worked at one of the most interesting (in my opinion) museums in the world – the V & A in London. She’s fully aware of how we as a society choose to collect items as a way to better understand — or at least keep alive — our histories. So it makes sense that she would approach her mother’s death and hoarding in the way she did: through her mother’s things.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of an object from her mother’s home, and includes some text that you would expect to see next to an item in the museum. That object then frames the discussion of the chapter. We start with Patricia falling in her home and being taken to the hospital, then Walker receiving a shaming phone call from a police officer. Her mother seemed to be improving enough to leave the hospital but couldn’t return to her home which was, in addition to being filled with items, in disrepair, with a broken and open back door, no running water or functioning toilet, and mildew and dampness everywhere. As Walker worked to convince hospital staff that a nursing home would be the best next step, Patricia died, leaving Susannah to sort through what remained.

Patricia and Walker’s father divorced with Walker was young, and she and her brother went to live with their father, only seeing their mother occasionally. They weren’t fully estranged though; Walker still spoke to Patricia regularly, and met up with her for lunch. But they were not close, as Walker always felt unloved. How could a mother sort of abandon her child? And how could a grown child not see that her mother was in such a condition that lead to this hoarding?

Walker takes the opportunity to explore her mother’s life as she sifts through her belongings, and it’s ultimately a sad life, full of loss. As Walker peels back the layers in the house, she also peels back a bit more about her mother’s life, learning more about events in the distant past. Walker lost a sibling on the day she was born; her mother also lost a sibling. Divorce spans generations of the family, and loss seems to be everywhere.

Some of the best parts of the book were Walker’s research into hoarding and how society chooses to classify and exploit the stories of hoarders. She points out that so much focus is on the brain chemistry of hoarders and not nearly enough on what really precipitates their actions: namely, often, a profound sense of loss.

Walker is an engaging writer and storyteller; I was on holiday and read the book over the course of just three days. I didn’t want to put it down. Not because there was anything especially urgent, but because I cared about Walker and her mother and all the people who have experienced loss and found themselves acting the way Patricia did. And I felt for everyone who has complicated relationships with their parents, especially when that parent has died, leaving the relationship unresolved. I’m not keeping it only because I don’t imagine I’ll want to reread it, but I will donate it so someone else can experience it.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Sunday

21

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Bullsh*t Jobs by David Graeber

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in labor issues and economic theory.

In a nutshell:
Some jobs don’t serve a purpose. They’re usually paid fairly well, but they don’t need to exist. Why do we as a society allow these jobs to exist, and what are they doing to the people who hold them?

Worth quoting:
“We can probably conclude that at least half of all work being done in our society could be eliminated without making any real difference at all.”
“The underlying assumption is that if humans are offered the option to be parasites, of course they’ll take it. In face, almost every bit of available evidence indicates that this is not the case.”
“How does it come to seem morally wrong to the employer that workers are not working, even if there is nothing obvious for them to do?”

Why I chose it:
It looked kind of interesting. And it was! Kind of.

Review:
There is a lot going on in this book, and while the author tries to make it accessible and interesting, it sometimes falls a bit more into the academic text realm than I’d prefer. Additionally, despite the academic appearance, so much of the data supporting the theory is qualitative, which isn’t bad per se, but there isn’t enough quantitative support for the broad statements Graeber offers.

The book grows from an essay on the topic Graeber wrote a few years back for a labor magazine. The premise is that there are many jobs out there that don’t actually need to exist, but do, and at times even pay quite well. He’s interested in exploring not only what this does to the workers who hold these positions, but what it means for society that we all just allow these jobs to exist. Capitalism suggests that such positions will be eliminated as inefficient, but still they persist. Why is that?

Graeber takes us through a quick history of labor in exchange for money, spending a fair bit of time on the concept (relatively new, apparently) that our bosses / companies are paying us for our time as opposed to our work. The idea of not being able to do something personal when you finish your work but are still ‘on the clock’ would have been odd until fairly recently, according to the author. But now we see people having to create work that doesn’t exist to fill their time.

The author spends the first chapters of the book developing a definition of bullshit jobs, which I appreciate. These aren’t shitty jobs, as those ones so ofter serve a purpose. No, these are the jobs that perhaps are middle management, or ‘box tickers.’ He ultimately offers five different categories, and support for them using anecdotes from people who contacted him after his original essay was published.

I want to have gotten more out of this book. I definitely appreciated his argument, especially as it relates to the idea that we all could be working less but our values won’t allow it. But I didn’t finish it feeling as though I had much that I could do. I have to admit to skimming the last chapter where that information would be; at that point my eyes had started to glaze over. I don’t think the book is bad, but maybe it’d be better placed in a serious book club or a course on labor studies.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Friday

5

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Secret Barrister by Anonymous

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in the English criminal justice system.

In a nutshell:
An actively practicing barrister shares what goes on in the English justice system, and offers suggestions of ways to fix it.

Worth quoting:
“Early guilty please equal cheap guilty please. It does not follow, of course, that early guilty please equal correct guilty please.”
“Defense legal aid, and the effective adversarialism that it permits, doesn’t simply protect the defendant; it protects the public by keeping the prosecution, and the court system, honest.”
“In many respects, the released innocent is worse off than the released convict, the latter of whom will at least have a measure of institutional assistance with their reintegration.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve seen this book prominently displayed in nearly every bookshop I’ve visited. I’ve enjoyed similar books related to the healthcare field, and thought this might be an interesting switch.

Review:
I know very little about the England / Wales justice system (which is not the same as the Scottish justice system or the Norther Ireland justice system). I’ve seen Mark Darcy defend Pussy Riot dopplegangers in British Jones’s Baby, and I watched a few episodes of that show where Gillian Anderson was a detective and the guy from 50 Shades of Grey kept killing people. But as someone born and raised in the US, there is a huge blank space where any knowledge of English justice might be.

Given that, this book was a fantastic was to fill in that space. Less ‘here’s an interesting story from my day as a barrister’ (which, side note, I finally kind of understand the difference between a barrister and a solicitor!) and more ‘let’s walk through the trial system from start to finish,’ this book is an examination of how the English adult criminal justice system is meant to work, how it works in reality, and what should be different. It is written by an anonymous — though active — barrister, who I suspect is a man (more on this in a moment) but who is dedicated to exposing how the system fails pretty much everyone, including the accused and the complainants.

The overarching theme of this book is that it is in EVERYONE’S best interest to have a well-functioning criminal justice system that protects the rights of the accused and looks after victims in an honest way. Areas I found especially interesting — and that might run counter to what some people think — were the ones that looked at the dangers of putting victims first in the way England currently does. One question that comes up a lot is — if you were falsely accused of a crime, what protections would you want in place to ensure you were treated fairly? The Barrister’s argument is that this is where we should focus, because, as most people agree, if we need to balance the two, it is better for society if someone is wrongly freed than wrongly imprisoned.

The book is laid out as the progression of a criminal case, although it doesn’t follow just one all the way through. The first chapter introduces the players, which, again, is extremely helpful to those of us not from here. (Seriously, I feel like they should issue a copy of this book with each residency visa.) From there, they cover charges, bail, prosecution (including the lack of sufficient funding), the problems with current Victim First thinking, legal aid / paying for defense, a look at the adversarial vs. inquisitorial systems, sentencing, and appeals. It’s exhaustive but not exhausting (unless you count how exhausting it is that funds keep getting cut because elected officials don’t fully grasp the issues).

My one big complaint is that two of the cases the author chose to illustrate things are sexual assault, and I think they were the wrong choices. One was an example of someone who was probably guilty not being convicted, and that one wasn’t as problematic. However, that was then followed by the use of a false accusation of sexual assault to illustrate a deep miscarriage of justice. The author swears up and down that they fully understand how rare such false allegations are, and that the more likely scenario is someone who is guilty not even being charged. But they still chose this instead any of the hundreds and thousands of other crimes that have horrible incorrect convictions. This is what makes me think the author is a man; I don’t think a woman would have been so cavalier in her choice of example.

Setting that frustration aside, I think this book is well worth a read, and one I will be recommending to all my friends who are new to the UK or are just interested in better understanding the UK criminal justice failures.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it.

Monday

25

March 2019

0

COMMENTS

Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer

Written by , Posted in Reviews

3 Stars

Best for:
Women needing a nudge to tend to their friendships with other women.

In a nutshell:
Through memoir and research, author Kayleen Schaefer explores the special bond women share, and how those bonds can be tested by society.

Worth quoting:
“It can hurt to break up with a friend just as much, if not more, than to break up with a lover, but women don’t grieve these losses as publicly.”
“Devoting ourselves to finding spouses, caring for children, or snagging a promotion is acceptable, productive behavior. Spending time strengthening out friendships, on the other hand, is seen more like a diversion.”

Why I chose it:
After moving back to London early last year, I’m simultaneously far away from some of my closest girlfriends and working on deepening new relationships with girlfriends I’d moved away from eight years ago. And trying to figure out how to do this in ways that make sense.

Review:
I haven’t ever had a squad of girlfriends. I wasn’t someone who shied away from having women friends (or girls as friends when I was kid); I just preferred more 1:1 time. At most, a group of three (including me) felt the best. I’ve never had long lists of close friends — or even not-so-close friends — I’ve just wanted to spend quality time with people who get me and who I get.

Right now, I’m dealing with a lot of different issues related to friendship. In addition to leaving my hometown after high school, I’ve made four big moves in my life where I’ve physically left friendships. During each move, some friendships dissipate, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; friendships don’t need to last a lifetime. But at the same time, especially as I get older (40 next year), I recognize the value, power, and beauty of someone having known me at different stages of my life, and me having known them. In fact, one of my closest girlfriends and I had a chat maybe five years ago, when she was dealing with some challenges as a parent. She shared how important it was that she still had friends like me and another of her close friends, who have known her since before she was a mom. We knew what she was like before, and could help her see how she still was that same woman in many (but not all) ways.

I’m also dealing with a friend who has, for lack of a better term, ghosted me. We’ve known each other for 16 years, and had stayed (what I thought was) good friends through her moving away, then me moving near her, then me moving away again, and now me being back in the same city. But as much as I’d thought and hoped that we’d pick up where we left off, I’ve not heard from her in months, and I don’t expect to. That’s hard.

That’s all background to say that when I saw this book, I knew I needed it, because I needed not a reminder that friendships are important, but permission to focus on making sure the existing friendships I have are tended to. Of course not all friendships will stay the same, and not all will need — or deserve — the same level of attention. But if we want to keep those relationships up (and we should), we need to work at them. And not as an afterthought.

Author Schaefer looks at the friendships girls and women have with each other through different stages of life. She focuses on how she treated female friendship first as a child in school (and examines the idea of ‘mean girls’), then as possible competition at the office, and then as a primary relationship in one’s life. She looks at the history of women supporting each other, and offers examples of times when women have supported their best friends through serious, trying times. She includes examples from pop culture as well as from people she knows.

She makes a strong case that we need to be supporting people in their friendships. The relationships we have with our partners (if we have one) or our kids (if we have any) are important, but friendships should be up there as well, and deserve our time and energy. Of course, that could seem like just one more thing we have to learn to juggle, but I think it’s more like something that, if we make the time, will give us much more than it takes from us.

The book obviously stirred up a lot in me, but I’m not sure it is a great book. I think it is good, and perhaps I was expecting less anecdata and memoir (which is on me, not the author), but it felt like some things were missing. There are also some areas where the author does demonstrate some ignorance (one section talks about women entering the workforce in the 50s which, I think she meant fairly well-off white women, because poor women and women of color have been working forever). In spite of that, I do think this is worth a read.

I could write more, but I’m off to dinner with two of my girlfriends.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend

Saturday

9

March 2019

0

COMMENTS

American Kingpin by Nick Bilton

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy investigative journalism told in narrative form.

In a nutshell:
A very Libertarian dude decides to make a statement and start a website that sells drugs. Things spiral. The federal government gets involved in multiple ways.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
After listening to Bad Blood, I needed another audio book for my runs. Memoirs have been my go-to in this format, but I think they have been replaced, as it’s easy to stay invested when it’s essential real-life suspense. And bonus: the narrator for this book happened to be the same one, and I like his style, so double-win.

Review:
I was vaguely aware of the Silk Road website, where people could buy and sell drugs and other contraband, but I had no idea about the story behind it. And OH MY GOD is it absurd. Like, this young guy with very specific ideals who is desperate to be successful in some realm just .. Starts a site. And it blows up to the point that it is doing hundreds of thousands of dollars of business a week.

A week.

What?!

The story alternates among a few major players: the site’s founder, two different homeland security inspectors, the FBI, and an IRS agent. The personalities are strong and interesting. Some people make horrible decisions. Some people make good decisions. And I yell “Are you KIDDING ME?” at least every 15 minutes. I felt like I was listening to a suspense novel, and then had to remind myself that this was real life.

If the whole Theranos situation has you intrigued, I think you’ll find this an interesting read as well.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Tuesday

5

March 2019

0

COMMENTS

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone who enjoys a true story about shady people who (for the most part) get what’s coming to them.

In a nutshell:
An experienced Elizabeth Holmes convinces a lot of people that she is on to the next big thing in biotechnology. She isn’t, and she gets VERY touchy when people point that out. Also, lots of powerful old white guys make some absurd financial decisions.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I listened to the podcast “The Drop Out,” which is just a few episodes long, but was definitely enough to get me interested.

Review:
Oh MY god did I love this book. I purchased the audio version and planned to listen to it during some long runs I have coming up. Instead, I could barely put it down, and listened to it every chance I got. It is a meticulously researched book, and Carreyrou explains complicated things (like how blood tests work) in ways that are not condescending or difficult to understand. The story develops slowly but never drags, as Carreyrou lays out the entire fiasco step by step.

What it comes down to is the Elisabeth Holmes was — is — a fraud. I think she started out with an idea (blood testing without the needles), and then became like a dog with a bone. She couldn’t and wouldn’t accept anyone disagreeing with her, because she was going to change the world. I don’t believe she was motivated by greed or money; I think she was fully motivated by her ego. She couldn’t dare admit that she was in over her head, or that her company Theranos wasn’t able to do what she promised; she just kept lying to others (and possibly herself) in the hopes that everything would work itself out.

The story is at times unbelievable. The number of attorneys involved. The cloak and dagger way the company treated its ‘trade secrets.’ The threatening letters. The lawsuits. The firings of anyone who questions anything. To think that people act this way — and think it is justified — is distressing to say the least. And frankly, I reserve about as much disgust for the attorneys who did Elisabeth Holmes’s bidding as I do for Holmes and her C-suite colleagues. The way the tormented people is offensive.

One area I think could have been developed a little bit more is the exploration of what the failures of the blood testing did to people’s lives. Carreyrou does share some stories of those who were harmed — such as a woman who ended up with $3,000 in unnecessary medical bills — but that can at times get lost in the story. And of course many of the whistle-blowers were motivated by the danger that faulty blood testing can cause, but it still wasn’t necessarily woven in as much as I would have liked. But that’s a very minor quibble, because it’s definitely discussed.

A little more than halfway through the book, the author become part of the story. It’s a slightly dramatic moment, but I think it is handled very well. The investigation of the Wall Street Journal article that predates the book is a huge reason why Theranos has been sued and why some of its leadership have been charged with crimes. It would be impossible for him to stay out of it, and the book would have suffered greatly without his perspective being shared in this way.

There were many moment when I got so angry at the things people were getting away with, but the last couple of chapters — I mean, there are some serious just deserts being served. It’s chef’s kiss come to life.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it. And probably listen again soon.

Thursday

28

February 2019

0

COMMENTS

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy autobiographies that don’t feel overly edited or ghost written.

In a nutshell:
Former (sob) First Lady Michelle Obama tells her story, from early childhood through her departure from the White House.

Worth quoting:
“This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It can put you on the established path — the my-isn’t-that-impressive path — and keep you there for a long time.”
“…because having been brought up in a family where everyone always showed up, I could be extra let down when someone didn’t show.”
“As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House I was ‘other’ almost by default. If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it wasn’t likely to be the same for me.”

Why I chose it:
I mean, duh. It’s Michelle Obama. How could I not?

Review:
I love the fact that Obama doesn’t become First Lady of the U.S. until page 282 in a 426 page book. She was only First Lady for eight years, but I can see a lesser publishing house or editor wanting to really focus on those eight years. In fact, given what was kept in and what was left out, I can see that this could EASILY have been a two-book volume. Instead, it is a true auto-biography that gives us real insight into who Michelle Robinson is, and how her life became entwined with our 44th President.

Obama is a great writer. I found her stories evocative, and interesting. I could picture the apartment she grew up in, her law office, her family. And while fairly early on her future husband enters the picture, the focus is still on her and how she experienced all these adventures. He’s almost a minor character; I feel like I get more of a sense of her children than her husband. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing — he tells his story, and has told his story, many times. This is about HER and how she felt about the things she has experienced as a Black woman filling a role that no Black woman has filled before.

It was hard to read again about some of the political things — reading asshole Mitch McConnell’s offensive and frankly anti-American comments, and being reminded of how aggressively Republicans fought to harm so many people in the US by blocking any sort of progress, just pissed me off even more than my regularly daily pissed-offedness thanks to the current President. But it was fascinating to learn a bit more about how the White House works, and how their family adjusted to that life.

I found myself relating to her in some ways – she is a planner, and super organized, and had a good home life growing up. I related hard to the quote I included up top, about staying on a path because one is worried about what other’s might think. I spent most of my youth through the end of college thinking I was going to be a lawyer, and it wasn’t until the summer before I was supposed to enroll at UCLA Law that I got the courage to tell my folks I didn’t want to do that. I had to figure everything out from scratch, and it terrified me. And I did another form of that again a year ago, when I moved overseas and left my career behind. For some of us its hard to not care what other people think, and it was refreshing to see someone be so honest about that.

There were definitely quite a few things that were either edited out or just never written. There is virtually nothing in there about her time in law school, which I found odd. But there is a lot about her time in college, so perhaps the two experiences weren’t different enough to be considered compelling reading? There is also not a ton in the White House, nor a lot about the second Presidential campaign. It’s a good read, but some of it does feel a bit ‘wait, you’re not even going to mention that?’, which is what kept me from giving it the full five stars.

I started this book in January and found myself only reading it in spurts, primarily because I tend to read on the go, and this book is HUGE. It was just too heavy to cart back and forth. But I sucked it up and read the back half in two days. So it’s not a slow read, or a dense read, but it’s not a book you can stick in a small purse and bring with you on the bus.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it AND Pass to a Friend